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Store:  2-Player Games
Genre:  Abstract Strategy
Format:  Board Games


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Designer(s): Jim Albea

Manufacturer(s): Jim Albea Games

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Product Information

Product Reviews


Average Rating: 2 in 1 review

A deeper abstract game - almost bewildering.
April 30, 2008

The best abstract strategy games are those with simple rules but complex enough strategies to last for hundreds of games. Some of the greatest games are those which seem simple at first glance but reveal themselves to be games of great depth. At the same time, a designer seeking to reproduce this great depth can overcompensate by creating a clunky interface - a game that is almost too obtuse to be enjoyed. That was my initial impression when first reading the rules for Plateau (Magnolia Games, 1990 - Jim Albea). Plateau comes with a complicated looking rulebook, a simple small game board, and confusing game play.

And sadly, that confusion is going to chase away enough new players that most won't find the depth of the game. I won't argue or deny that Plateau has hundreds of different, interesting strategies; it's the process of getting there that drives me nuts. The components are merely okay, the game play feels boring, and I don't want to have to play dozens of games to "get it". There is likely an audience that will find Plateau interesting - fans of Go, perhaps - but most folks won't make it through an entire game.

Each player starts with seven different types of pieces, each with a different combination of sides and point value.

  • Mute (4 pieces) - Blank on both sides; one point
  • Blue (2 pieces) - Blue on both sides; four points
  • Red (2 pieces) - Red on both sides; five points
  • Blue Mask (1 piece) - Blue on one side, blank on the other; eight points
  • Red Mask (1 piece) - Red on one side, blank on the other; ten points
  • Ace (1 piece) - Red on one side, blue on the other; fifteen points
  • Twister (1 piece) - Orange on one side, blank on the other; twenty-one points
Players take their pieces, which have a main color of black or white, and will use a four by four grid to play the game. Black places a two piece stack on one of the perimeter squares, and white places a two piece stack on a different perimeter square. Black then takes the first turn, and play alternates for the rest of the game.

On a player's turn, they have three actions. First, they may place a new piece onto the board anywhere they like (except inside an enemy stack or on top of a stack that has an enemy piece on the top). Or, they can instead move one of the stacks on the board. When moving a stack, the player may flip the top piece before moving. This is important, because a stack moves as the color shown on top.

  • Red stacks move in a straight line in any direction - up to one space for each piece in the stack.
  • Blue stacks are the same, except they move diagonally.
  • Blank stacks can move diagonally or orthogonally.
  • Orange stacks move two squares in one direction, then one space at ninety degrees. (Knight in chess)
  • All pieces can "jump" when moving and may drop pieces from the bottom of the stack onto the top of stacks on the spaces moved over.
Dropping pieces on top of enemy stacks is an important part of the game, but blank pieces may not do this. Players can "capture" opponents' pieces if they land on them in the final destination of the stack and if the stack has as many pieces as the pieces being captured. The captured pieces are removed from the board and placed in a player's "captured" area.

The third thing a player may do is exchange captured pieces with their opponent. They offer pieces to the other player, who offers pieces in return. An exchange MUST happen if the point values are similar. Either way, the game continues until one player has captured six or more pieces or has a stack of six of their own pieces on the board. There are quite a few more variations to the rules, but I can't really explain them without diagrams.

Some comments on the game...

  1. Components: What is it with abstract games and video cassette boxes? This is the fifth one I've received, but it does stay together better than the other games in my growing video-case-game-collection. The board is a simple bland grid, and the pieces are thick, white and black discs with red, blue, and orange plastic washers that must be pressed down into them, where they will likely never come out. I do think that the pieces are a good size, with raised ridges for easy stacking. How to keep the pieces hidden from your opponent is another matter. One can stand the box/case upright, although this is annoying and unsteady - screens from another game that feature hidden information are probably the best choice. I did find myself constantly looking at the bottom of pieces to see what they were, whether they were on the board or in the pile of pieces I hadn't played yet. This was fairly annoying, since it's critical that a player know what each of their own pieces is at all times.

  2. Rules: The game comes with two rules booklets, a simple "get started now" guide, and then a complete sixteen page rulebook. Normally I would be pleased about having so much information on a game; but even with various sketches and examples, I still had to play through some rounds, because I was completely befuddled - even after going through an entire game. The rulebook defines pieces and talks about the different types of movement - it just didn't come together for me at all during the course of my first couple games. After that, I started to slowly understand it; but even though the rules may seem simple, they are remarkably difficult to comprehend.

  3. Simplicity: I prefer abstract games that have an inherent, simple goal - whether it be to get five pieces in a row, or to capture all the opponent's pieces, etc. When a game starts to include capturing, prisoner exchanges, stacking, and various types of movement on a small board, the confusion starts to build; and the game loses any kind of simple charm that it might otherwise have. The idea of a two-sided piece, each side moving differently, is a clever one on paper; but the reality of this game is that it just becomes a confusing mess.

  4. Strategy: I would be a cretin if I acted as if the game wasn't strategic; there is certainly plenty involved, with the rulebook itself giving several pages to explain what a player should do. But when playing, even after going over the strategic hints (get pieces in play, guard the power pieces, watch out for tall units, etc.), I still found myself struggling to get any sort of tactical plan into action. I did understand the bluffing element, and that's probably the one thing I enjoyed about the game - wondering if the blank piece just played on the board actually has a color on the other side. But I'm completely befuddled on what strategy to follow after these basic thoughts.

  5. Fun Factor: Perhaps I'm not patient or smart enough to enjoy this game. I've seen others laud its praises, explaining that "once you know the game, it's a blast!" But I've played the game several times with various opponents - also giving the computer version a shot - and while I think I grasp the rules, I just don't see the fun in the vague strategies. My guess is that there are some folks out there who will enjoy a somewhat obtuse, abstract strategy game, but that most folks will be disappointed on their initial playing.

So, my recommendation is to pick up Plateau if you are a collector of abstract games and want something tough and possibly rewarding after many multiple plays. For ordinary folks, though, I can't see giving this game much of a chance. It's merely a mediocre presentation, and the bluffing/hiding/odd movement choices that the game presents come together in an intricate way that I'm not sure will be appealing to many people. It certainly wasn't for me.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"

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